July 20, 2010
An Overview of the Gila Mountains
By Anthony Licata
Situated in far southern New Mexico, the Gilas boast some of the most remote backcountry fish and game habitat in the Lower 48. More importantly, this range of rugged mountains is home to one of the nation’s most rare salmonids, the native Gila trout.
Once on the verge of extinction, TU and other conservation groups, in cooperation with state and federal agencies, have worked to restore these beautiful native fish to their home waters.
Additionally, the area provides outstanding opportunity for anglers pursuing a host of game fish in the middle and lower reaches of the Gila River. Fortunate anglers can catch smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, rainbow trout, brown trout and even catfish in the warmer, lower reaches of the river.
Hunters, too, have reason to visit the Gilas—huge elk and deer populations grace this country, as does a prime population of wild turkeys. On the Gilas dryer and lower slopes, quail are common and provide excellent sport for the upland bird hunter.
The mountains, too, shelter some of the region’s priceless cultural artifacts, including remote cliff dwellings from an ancient Native American civilization that to this day puzzles modern archaeologists.
Unfortunately, the area is being impacted by excessive and illegal off-road vehicle use. Pioneered trails are bisecting big game habitat and contributing silt and sediment to the Gila’s trout streams.
Cross-country travel is creating a spider web of improperly maintained trails that wash out during storms and rut deeply, permanently scarring otherwise habitable land for game and fish.
Properly maintaining legal trails is important to the Best Wild Places project—there are no efforts to close legal routes. But illegal and unofficial routs that impact habitat—and hunting and fishing opportunity—must be closed and reclaimed.
It will fall to sportsmen and ORV users themselves to police bad actors and protect this place forever.
What’s in the Gilas?
Fishing assets: Native Gila trout, smallmouth bass, brown trout, rainbow trout, brook trout, largemouth bass, catfish, suckers and various warmwater species in lower reaches of the Gila River drainage.
Hunting assets: Elk, deer, turkey, quail, varmints.
Other: Remains of ancient Native American civilizations, ample camping and touring opportunities, hiking, geocaching, cycling, etc.
Threats: Increased presence of illegally “pioneered” off-road trails that impact habitat and hunting and fishing opportunity.